The cost of a violin is something that always gives people pause. “Aren’t violins like... a million dollars?” “I can’t afford to play that instrument!” “Wait, can’t I get one off eBay for $10?” Violin prices vary exceedingly. While there are violins in the world worth millions of dollars, there are perfectly nice instruments for a mere sliver of that price.
Historical Violins and their Enormous Pricetags
The Stradivarius violins hold some of the most allure and mystique for violin players worldwide. Constructed between the mid to late 1600s and the early 1700s, Antonio Stradivarius chose to model his violin differently than his French friends made theirs. In addition to tweaking many of the traditional measurements and sizing for the violin, Stradivarius also experimented with types of woods and minerals to cure the violins.
The Most Expensive Stradivarius Violin
Stradivarius violins are extremely expensive and reserved for either elite players or those in a position to preserve and protect the instrument, such as museum or a foundation.
These violins range from 1.5 million dollars to upwards of 15.9 million dollars. In a failed auction, a Stradivarius viola failed to meet its base price of $45 million dollars. The trend of these special instruments is that their prices will keep climbing higher and higher as their rarity becomes more and more legendary. So what’s the most expensive Stradivarius violin in the world? That would be the “Lady Blunt” violin, named for Lady Anne Blunt, Lord Byron’s granddaughter. This violin recently sold at auction for a whopping 15.9 million dollars.
Most Expensive Violin in the World
The title of the most expensive violin in the world, however, does not belong to Stradivarius! Stradivarius’s contemporary, a man named Guarneri, holds that honor.
Bartolomeo Giuseppe "del Gesù" Guarneri lived in Cremona, Italy, at the same time as Stradivarius. His violin, the Vieuxtemps, sold at auction for $16 million dollars to the classical artist Anne Akiko Meyers. His violins were similar to Stradivarius’s in the fact that he played around with different materials and curing, plus he changed “normal” sizes of the components of the violin to find optimal sound quality.
Both Guarneri and Stradivarius made many instruments, most of which are either on display or being played regularly by their caretakers. These instruments are often more celebrated by their owners than the owners celebrate themselves: such is the case with Joshua Bell, who plays the coveted Gibson Stradivarius, whose long and storied past includes a death bed confession and cloak-and-dagger theft! Spoiler alert, Joshua Bell did not steal his own violin! On his website, he talks more about his fabulous instrument than he talks about himself. Proof that the artists who use these violins are very excited about the instrument’s past as well!
What About Me?
Okay, okay, so you MIGHT be an independently wealthy person who wants to shell out for a Stradivarius or a Guarneri, but chances are, you’re like a lot of us: you have a little money to spend on a violin, but not 16 million dollars.
People looking to start their violin career should invest in an instrument that is 1) not the equivalent of campfire tinder and 2) not going to break the proverbial bank. There’s a sweet spot in the middle that will satisfy any beginner’s needs. Some dealers of violins will sell you a very bad quality instrument. Nobody likes being really bad at something for a long, long time, especially when you try very hard NOT to be bad at something. I’ve written an in-depth article about violin for beginners, so check that out if this describes you.
Beginner violins typically run from a low-end range of $200 to a higher end of $700. Remember, if you search eBay for a cheap violin, that’s what you’ll get: a very cheap, very badly made (and frustrating!!) “instrument.”
Beginners deserve to learn on a good-quality instrument that won’t let them down, just like a seasoned student violinist deserves to have an instrument that showcases their growing abilities! Student models get most kids from their first “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” recital piece to the end of high school with very few issues. However, As a violinist grows and learns, some feel the need to upgrade their instrument from a student model to a professional model.
These higher-end instruments are more expensive than a beginner or student model. They are also more geared toward people who plan on playing their instrument either as a profession or as a lifelong hobby. These instruments are rarely the cost of a new car, but they certainly are more expensive than a beginner’s violin.
It’s important to note that not always does the cost reflect the quality. Sometimes, the more economical violins are actually more pleasing to your ear! It’s very important to try out your prospective instrument with a variety of bows, in a variety of acoustic settings, and with a variety of music styles to make sure that the instrument is exactly what you want.
However, many reputable luthiers deal violins online, and their products are very high quality. The people who work in these stores are trained string players as well as luthiers. They outfit the violins with the appropriate strings, shape each bridge so that the violin sings the way it was created to do. With that in mind, one may safely purchase an instrument with the full understanding that they may return it if they find themselves unsatisfied.
As you may have gathered, there is a broad range and spectrum to violin pricing. Where some instruments are a reasonable $2,500, others can move the comma a full space to be at $25,000. The prices on these instruments should not make you more or less willing to try them and see how they perform under your hands. From personal experience, you can trial 4 violins ranging from $4,000 to $1,200 and choose the most economical option. Remember, bows can also range in price and each bow can have a dramatic impact on the violin itself.
Violins are an investment, and many times you will "get what you pay for." Sometimes there is an exception to this rule as a higher price tag doesn't necessarily mean you will get a better-sounding instrument, but it is very important to purchase a violin from a reputable source, and, if you have the opportunity, ask if you can try out a violin in your own home to make sure it's the right fit for you!